CAN you feel it? Can you see it? There is a cloud of confusion descending on the world, and even sectors of the Church, that is obscuring what true salvation is. Even Catholics are beginning to question moral absolutes and whether the Church is simply intolerant—an aged institution that has fallen behind the latest advances in psychology, biology and humanism. This is generating what Benedict XVI called a “negative tolerance” whereby for the sake of “not offending anyone,” whatever is deemed “offensive” is abolished. But today, what is actually determined to be offensive is no longer rooted in the natural moral law but is driven, says Benedict, but by “relativism, that is, letting oneself be tossed and ‘swept along by every wind of teaching’,” Cardinal Ratzinger, pre-conclave Homily, April 18th, 2005 namely, whatever is “politically correct.” And thus,
A new intolerance is spreading, that is quite obvious. There are well-established standards of thinking that are supposed to be imposed on everyone… With that we are basically experiencing the abolition of tolerance… an abstract, negative religion is being made into a tyrannical standard that everyone must follow. —POPE BENDICT XVI, Light of the World, A Conversation with Peter Seewald, p. 52
The danger, ironically, is that people no longer see the danger. The realities of sin, eternity, Heaven, Hell, consequences, responsibilities, etc. are rarely taught, and if they are, are downplayed or injected with false hope—such as the novelty that Hell, someday, will be empty and that everyone will eventually be in Heaven (see Hell is For Real). The other side of the coin is an overreaction to this moral relativism whereby some Catholic commentators feel that no conversation is complete without a good stern warning to their listeners that they will be damned unless they repent. Thus, both the mercy and justice of God are tarnished.
My intention here is to leave you with as clear, balanced and true as possible a representation of who and how one is saved according to Scripture and Sacred Tradition. I will do this by contrasting the prevailing relativist’s interpretation of Scripture and then give the authentic and constant teaching of the Catholic Church.
WHO IS SAVED?
I. Act of the will, act of faith
In today’s Gospel, we read the beautiful passage of a shepherd leaving his entire flock to rescue a “lost sheep.” When He finds it, He places it on His shoulders, returns home, and celebrates with his neighbours and friends. The relativist’s interpretation is that God takes in and welcomes into His home every “lost sheep,” no matter who they are or what they’ve done, and that everyone eventually gets to Heaven. Now, take a closer look at this passage and what the Good Shepherd says to his neighbours upon returning home:
Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep. I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. (Luke 16:6-7)
The lost sheep is “found,” not only because the Shepherd went looking for it, but because the sheep was willing to return home. That willing “return” in this passage is denoted as a “sinner who repents.”
The Maxim: God seeks out every “lost” soul on earth. The condition for returning home in the Savior’s arms is an act of the will that turns away from sin and entrusts oneself to the Good Shepherd.
II. Leaving the past behind
Here is a contrasting parable whereby the main protagonist does not go in search of the “lost.” In the story of the prodigal son, the father lets his boy choose to leave home to indulge in a life of sinful pleasures. The father does not search him out but rather allows the boy to exercise his freedom which, paradoxically, leads him into slavery. At the end of this parable, when the boy begins his journey home, the father runs to him and embraces him. The relativist says this is proof that God does not condemn or exclude anyone.
A closer look at this parable reveals two things. The boy is unable to experience the love and mercy of the father until he decides to leave his past behind. Second, the boy is not clothed in a new robe, new sandals and a ring for his finger until he confesses his guilt:
The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15:21)
If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing… Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed… ( 1 John 1:9, James 5:16)
Confess to whom? To those with the authority to forgive sin: the Apostles and their successors to whom Jesus said:
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained… (John 20:23)
The Maxim: We come into the Father’s House when we choose to leave behind that sin which separates us from Him. We are reclothed in holiness when we confess our sins to those with the authority to absolve them.
III. Not condemned, but not condoned
Jesus reached down into the dust and raised to her feet a woman caught in adultery. His words were simple:
Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more. (John 8:11)
The relativist says this is proof that Jesus does not condemn people who live, for example, in “alternative” lifestyles such as an active homosexual relationship or those cohabiting before marriage. While it is true that Jesus did not come to condemn the sinner, that does not mean that sinners don’t condemn themselves. How? By after receiving the mercy of God, deliberately continuing in sin. In Christ’s own words:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him… Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him. (John 3:17, 36)
The Maxim: No matter how terrible a sin or sinner is, if we repent and “sin no more,” we have eternal life in God.
IV. Everyone invited, but not all are welcome
In Tuesday’s Gospel, Jesus describes the Kingdom of God like a banquet. Invitations are sent (to the Jewish people), but few respond. And so, messengers are sent far and wide to invite absolutely everyone to the Master’s table.
Go out to the highways and hedgerows and make people come in that my home may be filled.(Luke 14:23)
The relativist would say this is evidence that no one is excluded from Mass and Communion, much less God’s Kingdom, and that all religions are equal. What really matters is that we “show up,” one way or another. However, in the synoptic version of this Gospel, we read another crucial detail:
…when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ (Matt 22-11-12)
The guest was then forcefully removed. What is this wedding garment and why is it so important?
The white garment symbolizes that the person baptized has “put on Christ,” has risen with Christ… Having become a child of God clothed with the wedding garment, the neophyte is admitted “to the marriage supper of the Lamb” [the Eucharist]. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1243-1244
Baptism, then, is the prerequisite for entrance into the Kingdom of God. It is the Sacrament that washes away all our sin and unites us, as a free gift of God’s grace, to the mystical body of Christ to partake of the Body of Christ. Even then, mortal sin can undo this gift and exclude us from the Banquet, in effect, removing one’s baptismal garment.
Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1861
The Maxim: Every person on earth is invited to accept the free gift of eternal salvation offered by God, acquired through Baptism, and assured through the Sacrament of Reconciliation should a soul fall from grace.
V. The name says it all
According to Scripture, “God is love.” Therefore, says the relativist, God would never judge or condemn anyone much less cast them into Hell. However, as explained above, we damn ourselves by refusing to walk across the Bridge of Salvation (the Cross), extended to us through the Sacraments precisely by virtue of God’s great love.
That, and God has other names too, above all: Jesus Christ.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
The name Jesus signifies “Savior.”St. Pius X, Catechism, n. 5 He came precisely to save us from sin. It is a contradiction, then, to say that one can remain in mortal sin and yet claim to be saved.
The Maxim: Jesus came to save us from our sins. Thus, the sinner is only saved if they let Jesus save them, which is accomplished through faith, which opens the doorways of sanctifying grace.cf. Eph 2:8
SLOW TO ANGER, RICH IN MERCY
In summary, God…
…wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)
All are invited—but it’s on God’s terms (He created us; how He saves us, then, is His prerogative). The whole plan of salvation is for Christ to unite all of creation in Himself—a union that was destroyed by original sin in the Garden of Eden.cf. Eph 1:10 But in order to be united to God—which is the definition of happiness—we must become “holy as God is holy,” cf. 1 Peter 1:16 since it is impossible for God to unite to Himself anything impure. This is the work of sanctifying grace in us that is brought to completion through our co-operation when we “repent and believe the good news” cf. Phil 1:6, Mark 1:15 (or completed in purgatory for those who die in a state of grace, but are not yet “clean of heart”—the necessary condition to “see God” [cf. Matt 5:8]).
Jesus does not want us to be afraid of Him. Time and again He reaches out to the sinner precisely when they are in the state of sin, as if to say: “I did not come for the healthy but I came for the sick. I am looking for the lost, not those already found. I shed My blood for you in order that I may cleanse you with it. I love you. You are mine. Come back to Me…”
Dear reader, do not let the sophistries of this world deceive you. God is absolute, and therefore, His commandments are absolute. Truth cannot be true today and false tomorrow, otherwise it never was truth to begin with. The teachings of the Catholic Church, such as those on abortion, contraception, marriage, homosexuality, genderism, abstinence, moderation, etc. may challenge us and seem difficult or contrary at times. But these teachings are derived from the absolute of God’s Word and can not only be trusted but depended upon to bring life and joy.
The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. (Psalm 19:8-9)
When we are obedient, we show ourselves to be humble, like little children. And to such as these, Jesus said, belongs the Kingdom of God.Matt 19:4
O soul steeped in darkness, do not despair. All is not yet lost. Come and confide in your God, who is love and mercy… Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet… I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in My unfathomable and inscrutable mercy. —Jesus to St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary, n. 1486, 699, 1146
Were a soul like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint, there would be no [hope of] restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy [in Confession] restores that soul in full. Oh, how miserable are those who do not take advantage of the miracle of God’s mercy! —Jesus to St. Faustina on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary, n. 1448
The sinner who feels within himself a total deprivation of all that is holy, pure, and solemn because of sin, the sinner who in his own eyes is in utter darkness, severed from the hope of salvation, from the light of life, and from the communion of saints, is himself the friend whom Jesus invited to dinner, the one who was asked to come out from behind the hedges, the one asked to be a partner in His wedding and an heir to God… Whoever is poor, hungry, sinful, fallen or ignorant is the guest of Christ. —Matthew the Poor, The Communion of Love, p.93
Are the unbaptized damned to Hell? That answer in Part II…
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